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date: 21 March 2018

Russia in Asia

Summary and Keywords

Throughout Russian history, domestic and foreign observers have sought to define the similarities and differences between Russia and Asia, combining symbolic and physical geographies, often as a corollary of Russia’s relationship to Europe. Both concepts and boundary lines changed as the Russian state expanded from the 15th century forward, from a small territorial base on the Upper Volga south and east, to incorporate territories inhabited by Asian peoples. Conquest was accompanied by uneven patterns of colonization and erratic attempts at conversion to Orthodoxy and russification. These processes varied in encounters with different populations and landscapes along four major frontiers, Pre-Volga and Siberia, the Pontic Steppe, Transcaucasus, and Trans Caspia. By 1914, the Russian Empire was a multi-national state that had not solved the fundamental problems of its self-perception as a civilization or the stability of its rule.

Keywords: geography, conquest, colonization, religious conversion, cultural identity, imperialism, Orientalism, russification, frontiers

Boundaries and Frontiers

Ever since Greek and Roman writers fixed the boundary separating Europe and Asia at the Don River, the idea of a clear-cut separation between the two continents has proved to be more symbolic than real. Western and Russian observers alike came to infuse it with a cultural as well as geographical meaning, which was the major reason for the importance they attached to it. Drawn originally to include the Greek colonies on the northern Shore of the Black Sea and accepted in Europe for a thousand years, the Don boundary ignored the periodic migrations of Asian nomads and, as was the case with the Magyars and the Cumans, settling on the Danubian Plain. It included within its boundaries successively the East Slavic tribes as they migrated out from the region of the Pripet Marshes and the loosely linked principalities of Kievan Rus. But the Mongol invasions of the 13th century overwhelmed the Russians, deprived them of their sovereignty, and plunged them back into Asia for two centuries.

One way of looking at the relationship of the Russians with Asia from this point forward is to see it as a long struggle to recover their sovereignty and later to secure a European identity. Even after Peter the Great opened the window to Europe, the old boundary was not challenged until the mid-18th century, when the Russian historian V. M. Tatishchev proposed the Ural Mountains instead. But European statesmen from Sully to Frederick the Great demurred. Even Russians continued to perceive the steppe north of the Black Sea as Asian in its “barbarism.”1 Only after Russia was admitted to the Concert of Europe as a constituent member at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 did the great powers adjust geography to politics by endorsing the Urals as the boundary with Asia.2 Yet, Metternich could still quip, “Asia begins at the Landstrasse.”3

The new line of the Urals still left most of the territory of the Russian Empire outside of Europe, although not, it would seem, the Russians and Ukrainians who resettled there. The only comparable case of a country split between two continents was the Ottoman Empire, but with a reverse spin: an Asian power had acquired territories in Europe. The Ottomans, like the Russians, had to wait their turn to be admitted to the European Concert until the Treaty of Paris ending the Crimean War in 1856, ironically, on the eve of the most rapid deterioration of the Ottoman position in Europe. International politics, in this case directed against the Russians, again trumped geography.

Like the Don, the Urals never served as an effective barrier to the movement of peoples or the transfer of cultures. The major zones of tundra, forest, and steppe extend unbroken on both sides of the uplands. A gap opens up between the southern tip of the hills and the Caspian Sea, permitting easy access in both directions. The Urals did not prevent or even hamper nomadic migrations from pouring through the gap, ignoring the niceties of later cartographers. Even in the far north, as early as the 14th century, “the Rock,” as it was known in ancient times, did not discourage bands of Novgorod fur hunters and traders from crossing regularly into Siberia. There were substantial Asian populations to the west of the Urals organized, after the breakup of the Great Mongol Empire, into the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Crimea. In the upper Volga and Kama Rivers, they included Tatars and Bashkirs who had accepted Islam and Chuvash, and Finno-Ugric Mari, Mordvins, and Udmurt who remained animists. Although conquered in the 16th century, the people of the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan were never fully assimilated, despite major efforts to convert them to Orthodoxy or to russify their cultural practices.

The southern boundary of European Russia and Asia poses the same definitional problem as the eastern boundary. After the conquest of the South Caucasus, the Caucasus Mountains were officially designated to fulfill that function. But this left the Christian Armenian and Georgian populations outside Europe while placing the Nogay, Kabardian, and other Asian peoples inside Europe. Just before The First World War, when the empire had reached its greatest extent, the Resettlement Bureau of the Main Administration of Agriculture and Land revealed, without signifying its deep significance, a particular dimension of Russia’s relations with Asia. Officially, the government recognized two boundaries with Asia, one internal along the traditional lines of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains and the other external fixed by international agreements with the Ottoman Empire, the Persian (Qajar) Empire, Afghanistan, and the Chinese (Qing) Empire. In providing a statistical survey of Asian peoples, the same source did not list any Caucasian peoples, although it included a category for Tatars in Siberia and Trans-Caspia.4

Five additional points related to the existence of the inner and outer boundaries provide further evidence of the distinctive character of the Russian relations with Asia compared to the overseas empires. First, because Russia expanded into contiguous territories, the government faced the choice of whether to integrate large Asian populations practicing different religions and speaking different languages into the metropolitan administrative-legal system and social structure (never an option for the overseas empires) or administer them as colonial subjects. Second, in treating the forest and steppe nomads who formed the majority of the subjugated Asian population, the Russian government sought, erratically to be sure, to sedentarize and assimilate rather than enclose, expel, or eradicate them. Third, expansion embroiled Russia in prolonged conflicts with other land-based multicultural Asian empires—Ottoman, Iranian (Safavid and Qajar), and Chinese (Qing)—competing for the same contested territories on their respective peripheries. Fourth, even after international treaties were signed and boundaries were fixed, the newly acquired borderlands remained vulnerable to cross-border influences from peoples on the opposite side who shared a common ethnic or religious identity. Fifth, the massive migration and settlement of Russian and other European peoples into the Asian territories ran parallel to a concurrent, intermittent, out-migration of the Asian populations from the Russian Empire to neighboring multicultural empires. These five elements immensely complicated the process of state-building for Russia by posing problems of external security, internal stability, and competing national identities that have no exact counterparts in the encounters of other European states with Asia. This does not mean that the Russian experience has not shared a number of similarities with the overseas empires, particularly in power relationships at the local level, as post-colonial studies have emphasized. This article, however, focuses on the differences.


Encounters with Asian populations and the efforts to incorporate those who were conquered inevitably raised the question of how the Russians viewed themselves. Self-perception meant the maintenance of a distinct cultural identity. With the adoption of Christianity from Byzantium, rather than Rome, or the more extreme alternatives of Islam and Judaism, the choice appeared to have been made; however arbitrarily, it was imposed from above by princely authority and only gradually accepted by the East Slavic tribes. This set them at odds with the peoples on their eastern and southern frontiers, who opted for Islam or remained pagan—in other words, Asian. Yet membership in the great Christian Commonwealth was denied them as a result of the Great Schism in the Church in 1054, and subsequent failures to mend it. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, Muscovite Russia remained the only independent Orthodox community in the world, leading to a long period of cultural alienation from the Christian West (whether Roman Catholic or later Protestant). But the Moscow princes themselves also steadfastly resisted the temptation to assume the mantle of the Byzantine Emperor as the secular head of oikoumene, that is the Orthodox world. When in the 17th century, Moscow diplomats argued their case for recognition of the title tsar by the Holy See, they made no reference at all to the Byzantine legacy. Their justification was the conquest of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Sibir (Siberia). But these “kingdoms” were not recognized as belonging to the European system and therefore carried no weight in Rome.5 At the same time, the Crimean khan refused to recognize the title because it signified a legitimate claim to the legacy of the Mongol Empire, which the khan denied to the Russians.

In their search for a unique foundation for their sovereignty, the Muscovite tsars appropriated two identities; the Byzantine and the Mongol, the religious and the secular, the European and the Asian, yet neither wholly one or the other.6 Moreover, the Russian Orthodox Church underwent its own schism in the 17th century, and elements within the Old Believer schismatics regarded the state as the instrument of the anti-Christ. Paradoxically, they denounced as foreign the attempt of Patriarch Nikon to re-introduce original Byzantine forms of ritual and symbols by eliminating Russian accretions over the previous centuries. Thus, the official church, recognized by the state as the instrument of converting Asian Muslims and pagans into Russians, was challenged by a minority that claimed to represent the true Russian spirit in Orthodoxy. To pile irony upon irony, the Old Believers, having fled or been scattered to the peripheries of Muscovy and later the Empire, became by the 18th and early 19th century, among the most energetic and effective non-governmental promoters of Russian colonization. They were not, however, employed as agents of conversion; instead they were exposed to often zealous missionary activities by the official church.

The gradual shift away from the Byzantine to a West European concept of rulership dramatically accelerated under Peter I, “the Great.” It was perhaps fitting that the symbolic inaugural moment signifying that shift came in the ceremony celebrating his victory over the Crimean Tatars at Azov, in 1696.7 Yet, as we shall see, Peter’s reign retained a resemblance to the autocratic model of Mongol rule, however masked by European style rituals and symbols, but also broke open a new door to Asia to match his “window to the West.” As the newly conceived Russian Empire expanded deeper into Asia, the rulers, the noble elite and, with the emergence of a literate public in the 19th century, the intelligentsia, continued to wrestle with the question of how to express their identity and shape their institutions in order to facilitate the incorporation of a great variety of culturally distinctive populations, which they had conquered by force.

The closest Russians came to defining the Asian “other” was the term inorodtsy. Often translated as “aliens,” its literal meaning is “persons of other origin.” Initially applied informally to Siberian tribes, it became a legal category in 1822, designating non-sedentary people (with the exception of Jews) and later the settled population of Turkestan. By the late 19th century, it acquired much broader cultural and political overtones, reflecting the growth of Russian national feeling directed against all the nationalities in the borderlands.8

A different image of Asians emerged along with the surge in expansion into the Caucasus and Trans-Caspia during the Great Reforms, when it was crafted by specialists working in scholarly institutions dealing with Oriental studies (vostokovedenie) such as the Asiatic Museum of the Academy of Science, in departments of the state dealing with the native populations, and in the Asiatic Department of the Foreign Ministry. In a post-romantic atmosphere, the scholars based their conclusions on scientific evidence from archeological digs, historical documents, and linguistic analysis. They reached the conclusion that ancient, advanced Asian civilizations had made a valuable contribution to Russian culture, wherein the convergence (sblizhenie) between East and West was ideally suited to take place.9 In the decade before 1917, their positive view of the Asian national minorities did not meet with approval from the tsarist government. But in the 1920s, their views were revived and reinterpreted in two contrasting versions: first in the Bolshevik policy of indigenation (korenizatsiia); and second, in the theory of Eurasianism elaborated by a small, isolated group of Russian scholars in exile. As an active policy, indigenation soon lost ground under Stalin, though it never was wholly repressed. Eurasianism, which appeared to have virtually vanished from the scene, underwent a spectacular revival in post-Soviet Russia and occupies an important place today in official propaganda, and in school curricula as the discipline of Kulturologiia.10

Yet under the empire, publicists, creative artists, scientists, and even some officials contributed in a variety of ways to a Russian form of Orientalism, which at its most enlightened privileged hybridity or crossing over (skreshchenie).11 But scholars who do not agree with this formulation insist that it was merely a device to convince Europeans and themselves that Russia was a superior bearer of Western civilization through their special understanding of Asia and Asians.12 In either case, neither Russian officials nor intellectuals ever devised a coherent ideology that might have balanced or softened the periodic surges of russification inspired by colonial mentalities and imposed on the subject Asian peoples of the empire. What is incontrovertible is that Russians’ engagement with Asia and Asians deeply affected their self-perception as well as the appraisal of Westerners, betraying in both cases an element of cultural ambivalence.

Conversion and Russification

An essential component of Russian self-perception in relation to their encounter with Asians was the idea of Russia as a civilizing, or what today would be called a modernizing, force. Nowhere was this more forcefully expressed than in two closely related state-initiated cultural campaigns of conversion and russification linked by educational reform. As a means of promoting the unification of the diverse conquered Asian populations under imperial rule, conversion was widely but unsystematically applied throughout the history of the empire. It was employed more actively in some periods than others, even alternating at times with toleration of non-Orthodox religions. As a general rule, church missionaries had greater success with the animist peoples of Siberia, who practiced a form of shamanism, than with the steppe nomads and the Caucasus mountaineers who had embraced Islam. Beginning in the 16th century, Islam was undergoing a revival in the Asian borderlands. By the 18th century, most of the nomads and the Crimean Tatars had converted to Sunni Islam. Sharing their faith with the Ottoman Sultan, who was also the Caliph of the worldwide Muslim community (umma), they posed, in the eyes of the Russian rulers, the problem of dual loyalty. In the great contest between the two religions, Islam was far better equipped than the Siberian animists and Kalmyk Buddhists to resist the missionary activities of the Orthodox Church.

Ironically, Russian conquests created a broad arena for the spread of Muslim Tatar influences in the economic and cultural life of the non-Russian peoples. Tatar merchants operating out of Kazan virtually dominated the eastern trade. Tatar became the language of commerce and even local administration, exercising a strong influence in particular on the Kazakhs. With the revival of Islam and especially the activity of the Sufi sects, Tatar mullahs trained at Kazan or Ufa were active in spreading Islam and establishing Muslim religious schools.13 Throughout the 19th century, successive waves of Tatar apostasy alarmed state officials and church hierarchs, stimulating a Russian reform of their own educational practices.14

Once the Orthodox Church was forced, under Peter I, to share with secular themes the legitimizing role in the imperial order, its usefulness declined as the sole instrument for imposing loyalty and uniformity among the newly subjected populations of the empire. Catherine the Great extended a greater degree of toleration to all religions than any of her predecessors or successors. Her policy was only erratically carried on by her grandson Alexander I. The uneven course of conversion also reflected the varied responses of the conquered peoples. Superficial conversion and apostasy were recurrent problems. Historians have identified another form of reaction as “inner conversion,” that is reform movements within Islam or Lamaist Buddhism responding to social and cultural changes introduced by the Russians.15 For example, the Crimean Tatar reformer Ismail Bey Gaspirali (Gasprinskii) adapted European methods of education to Islamic ends by establishing jadid (new method) schools, where secular subjects and practical training were combined with a study of Russian and religious instruction.16 Among the Mari, for example, an Islamic reform movement reflected strong Christian influence, including the appropriation of Orthodox religious discourse.17 In general, conversion as an active policy suffered from an over reliance on state support, the lack of adequate resources, and too few missionaries trained in the native languages.

Moreover by the mid-19th century, a shift in emphasis was underway from conformity in religion to acceptance of the Russian language and other signs of Russian culture as the primary marker of imperial (rossiiskaia) identity. Under Nicholas I, the Minister of Education, S. S. Uvarvov, gave precedence to religion in his tripartite formula of imperial rule: “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality (narodnost’).” But increasingly after 1881, official policies effectively reversed the sequence. They altered the key term of narodnost’ to nationalnost’ and raised it to first place in the formula followed by “Autocracy and Orthodoxy.” But just how this process of “russification” was to be applied depended on various spatial and temporal factors, requiring a plural form of the noun.18

The encounters between Russians and Asians caused a series of demographic upheavals that have been until recently relatively neglected. The cession of Ottoman and Iranian borderlands to Orthodox Russia after lost wars, and the relentless pressure within Russia on sedentary or ways of life touched off waves of out-migration by pastoral nomads of the steppe and mountain people of the Caucasus, mainly Muslim Tatars and Bashkirs, but also Buddhist Kalmyks. Government policy toward these departures was inconsistent. At times it encouraged them; other times it sought to slow or stem them depending on whether it was prioritizing security or economic stability in the borderlands. In either case, the migrations were hurried and disorganized, marked by heavy losses in life and economic disruption in the lands they abandoned. Wherever the migrants relocated, they created social instability and ethnic conflict, especially in the Ottoman Balkans and Anatolia. There were cases of migrants returning after their expectations of a better life abroad were disappointed. Internal migrations of the steppe nomads added to the intermingling of populations remaining within the empires.

Although blurred boundary lines and mixed cultural perceptions were common characteristics of the relations between Russians and Asians, there were significant regional differences. These reflected a variety of frontier experiences, changing government policies within the borderlands, local responses of the Asian peoples and the impact of internal dynamics on the neighboring Asian states of the Ottoman Empire, Iran and China (see Figure 1).19

Russia in AsiaClick to view larger

Figure 1. Map. Patterns of Migration and Resettlement along the Four Frontiers

In the spirit of constructing regions as “a new vision and a new division of the social world, ”this article identify four types: Pre-Ural and Siberia, the Pontic steppe, the Caucasian Isthmus, and Trans-Caspia.20

Pre-Ural and Siberia

The Russian penetration of the pre-Ural and Siberian forest zone, unlike others, was driven initially by economic factors. In the 15th century, the lands beyond the Urals were well-known to hunters from Novgorod and Moscow in search of valuable furs, especially the fabled sable. The fur trade soon gave rise to a cultural conflict. Beginning in 1483, for the first time, the Prince of Moscow sought to regard the collection of furs as tribute (iasak), while tribal chiefs considered it as a form of barter. Despite the differences in perception, leading at times to violent encounters, the Moscow government expanded its expeditions. However, before the wealth of Siberia could be fully exploited, it was necessary to remove a major block to eastern expansion posed by the Tatar Muslim khanate of Kazan, one of the several heirs to the Great Mongol Empire. Although Ivan IV proclaimed his campaign against Kazan was a Christian crusade, Moscow’s forces included many Tatars and Ivan’s alliance with other Muslim groups like the Nogay nomads and the Crimean Khanate complicated the picture. The real conquest of Siberia began after the fall of Kazan in the mid-1550s. By the 17th century, furs accounted for 10 percent of the revenues of the Moscow government.

The khanate of Siberia was the last of the organized obstacles on the road to the east. Ivan IV granted to the Stroganovs, a wealthy family of hunter-merchants (promyshlennik), privileges and lands beyond the Urals, one of the few cases when the state entrusted private entrepreneurs with the task of expanding the realm. They employed a small band of Cossacks under the leadership of Ermak, a free-booter of obscure origins from the Don. Equipped with firearms, they defeated the large armies of the Siberian khan armed only with bows and arrows. But Ermak and his band were killed shortly thereafter. A prolonged struggle to conquer Siberia, taking the rest of the century, was pursued up by the regular forces of Moscow, in tandem with Russian peasant settlers.

Yet, the settlement of Siberia proceeded slowly throughout the 17th century, gathering momentum only at the end of the 19th century. It has been estimated that, at the end of the 17th century, about 100,000 Russians and other foreigners had settled in Siberia. The indigenous population consisted of more than twice this number, organized loosely into 500 tribal groups speaking 120 languages. Migration from Moscow was partly organized by the state and partly spontaneous. Most of the newcomers were state peasants re-settled by the government with smaller numbers of church peasants, runaway and exiled serfs and religious dissidents, like the Old Believers, escaping state authority.21 By 1762, the total population had doubled. Although the number of indigenous people remained the same well into the 19th century, at about five million, their percentage of the total population fell to 14 percent.

Conquest was one thing, but imposing rational administrative order was another. In Siberia, relations between the Russian promyshlenniki were often marked by violence. Peter the Great was unsparing in applying brutal methods to bring the natives under imperial rule. The local administrators, far distant from St. Petersburg, were notoriously corrupt and arbitrary. However, they were also concerned to establish property lines and impose social and tribal categories on what appeared to them to be a chaotic and untamed wilderness as another strategy to integrate the natives.22 By the early 19th century, the government began to take the need for reform seriously. In opposition to officials who sought to treat Siberia as a colony, bureaucratic reformers struggled to find the most fruitful avenue of assimilation. Among the most prominent, was Mikahil Speranskii, honorably exiled to Siberia as governor general by Alexander I to bring order into this vast realm. Speranskii drafted a reform in 1822 that gave the natives greater autonomy in running their local affairs than Russian villages and townships. He was the first to define officially the inorodtsy, separate them into ethnic groups, and categorize them as “wandering,” “nomadic,” and “settled” along an evolutionary scale leading to civilization. Elders and chiefs were to be elected or hereditary, confirmed by a Russian civil governor, but only removed for cause. He made provisions for the natives to establish their schools while allowing them to register in Russian schools if they wished. The missionary zeal of the church was curbed. The native possession of the land was legally guaranteed. A start was made in the codification of customary law, leading to the Law of the Steppe in 1847. Although this never received formal legal sanction, it was used to regulate legal relations down to 1917. Unfortunately, the reforms lacked adequate institutional safeguards. For their full realization, they relied on increased education and the emergence of a class of “better” natives who had made the transition from a nomadic to settled life. The effort to make Siberia an integral part of Russia as a means to enhance its role in Asia fell short as waves of peasant migration swamped the local population in the late 19th century.23

The creation of the Ministry of State Domains, in 1837, opened a new reforming phase associated with its first minister, Count P. D. Kiselev, a distinguished veteran army officer who had organized the reform of the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia on Russia’s far western Danubian frontier. Initially, the rationale for organizing a more systematic settlement in western Siberia had been the pressure on the land in European Russia and the need to improve the welfare of state peasants. During his administration, about 189,000 state peasants were re-settled in Western Siberia. But the first serious proposal to link colonization in Eastern Siberia to Asian politics came in the form of a secret memo by the governor of Eastern Siberia in 1846. He emphasized that the decline of China, and the growing pressure of the maritime powers on China and Japan underlined the necessity of strengthening Russia’s position on the Pacific. He recommended resettling 150,000 Russian state peasants along the Chinese frontier. Although Kiselev was skeptical and the immediate practical obstacles weighed against the proposal, the idea was born that fully blossomed half a century later under Sergei Witte.24

Along parallel lines with administrative reform, the government and Orthodox Church launched an ambitious policy of conversion of the native tribes on both sides of the Urals. The first systematic campaign to convert a conquered population was undertaken by Ivan IV after the conquest of Kazan. Although pressure was brought to bear on the Muslim Tatars and Bashkirs, Ivan favored more subtle measures of winning over the Tatar ruling elites by distributing tangible rewards and privileges, including titles of nobility, and permitting intermarriage with Russian noble families. In the face of low responses among the rest of the population, the pressure and punishments increased, reaching their apogee in the period between 1740 and 1764 when the government launched its most violent conversion campaign in Kazan under the auspices of the newly created Agency of Convert Affairs. Mosques were burned and resistance mounted among the Tatars. It proved easier to win over the animists who composed the vast majority of the hundred thousand converts claimed by the church. Catherine the Great called a halt to the policy. Abolishing the Agency, she inaugurated the most tolerant period in Russia’s relations with the indigenous people throughout the empire since the 16th century.25 The cooptation of converts into government service took various forms. Among the Bashkirs, separate military units of irregular cavalry were formed that served with special distinction during the Napoleonic Wars. Converts among the Volga Tatars played an important role in creating schools and later, after the subjugation of the Trans-Caspian khanates of Bukhara and Khiva, in serving as translators (Figure 2).26 Ethnic or racial exclusionism was much less of a cultural marker in Russian social life, especially among the upper classes, than among British and French colonizers (Figures 3 and 4).

Faced with the recurrent problem of Tatar apostasy, an innovative approach was designed in the 1860s by a layman, Nikolai Il’minskii, professor of oriental languages at the Kazan Theological Academy. In another example of cultural transfer that characterized Russian relations with its Asian subjects, Il’minskii admiringly adopted some of the spontaneous and informal spirit of Tatar confessional schools in his project to translate Orthodox texts into native languages and recruit native converts into the clergy. His methods were most successful among the Tatars and Chuvash of the Upper Volga and the pagan mountaineers of the Caucasus.27 Moreover, when the government broadened its definition of religious toleration in 1905, there was a sharp reversal in conversion from Orthodoxy to Islam, with 39,000 out of 49,000 reported in Kazan Province.

Another innovator in the Siberian diocese was Ioann Veniaminov (Innokentii) (1797–1879), born and trained in Irkutsk who rose from a parish priest to become bishop of a vast diocese including parts of Eastern Siberia and Russian Alaska and finally Metropolitan of Moscow. Like Il’minskii, his missionary work was inspired by the idea of gaining the natives’ trust and understanding their culture. He established a local seminary and used priests from the indigenous parish clergy (“creoles”) to s­­pread the gospel. Even though his efforts fell short of his aims, his work laid the foundation for the flourishing of Orthodoxy in Alaska after the Russians left in 1867.28 In these as in other cases, however, Russian Orthodox reformers struggled to overcome the natives’ resistance to conversion, which they perceived as an instrument of russification.

In the course of their expansion in Siberia, the Russians encountered scattered and weak resistance until they came up against the borders of China, the countervailing power in Asia, and a far more formidable foe than the native tribes. The Russians were among the first representatives of a Western power to make contact with the Chinese Empire. By the 1680s, extensive raiding on both sides of their ill-defined border led to a full-scale war. Heavily outnumbered, the Russians gained an advantage over the Qing by supporting the last great effort of the Mongols to create their own state of Dzhungaria in the space between the two belligerents. By the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689 the Russians obtained a restricted right to trade through the border town of Nerchinsk, although they were obliged to surrender large parts of the Amur River basin. Peter the Great continued efforts to expand Russian trade. After arduous negotiations the Russians obtained further trading rights at the Treaty of Kiakhta in 1727, again surrendering territory and giving up the option of supporting the Dzhungar Mongols who were then crushed by the Qing. Despite Chinese views on the formal subordination of “barbarian” treaty partners to their emperor, they conducted both these treaties with the Russians on an equal basis, setting a precedent for future negotiations between the western powers and China.29 However, the Russians were unable to pursue their broader aims or expand trade in the face of Chinese resistance. The Russians were careful not to exploit the privilege of maintaining an Orthodox Church in Beijing, which they had obtained at Kiakhta, to pursue missionary activities. The Chinese government considered the resident clergy to be in their service, granted them official rank and conducted diplomatic relations with them, a unique situation in Russian foreign policy.30

The Russians took advantage of the decline of the Qing after the Opium War with Great Britain forced open China’s ports and the Taiping Rebellion shook the dynasty to its foundations to press for the return of territories they had surrendered in previous negotiations. The Treaty of Peking in 1860 restored the Priamur and Ussuri regions to Russian rule and opened trade for Russian merchants in the towns of Western Turkestan. The outbreak of a series of Muslim rebellions from 1862 to 1877 engulfing the entire northwest of China opened the way for Russia to intervene.31 Initially, Russians were concerned about the rise of a powerful Muslim state on its borders and the possible disruption of trade relations. But they reached an accommodation with the leader of the rebels, Ya’qub Beg, who was also establishing commercial contacts with the British in India and religious relations with the Ottoman sultan in far distant Istanbul. When the Russian inner Asian frontier was overrun by refugees from the rebellion, threatening security and ruining trade, the Russians decided to intervene unilaterally. They occupied the Ili River Valley and stayed there for ten years to prevent the spread of the rebellion into their territory. Meanwhile, a great debate raged among the Qing leaders over whether Western Turkestan (soon to be renamed Xinjiang) was a barren and worthless colony or a bulwark against Russian threats to Mongolia to the east.32 Russian and Chinese aims headed for a showdown. The Chinese intervened, crushed Ya’qub Beg and demanded the Russians evacuate Ili. War was narrowly averted over delimitation of the border. In the end the two sides reached an agreement, leaving the local nomadic Kazakh and Kirghiz divided on both sides, like the Mongols before them.

The idea of strengthening Russia’s position in Eastern Siberia underwent a radical change in the 1880’s. The new tsar, Alexander III (1881–1894), and his closet advisers were persuaded that its integration had acquired a new urgency in light of the growth of regional sentiments and the possibility of a renewed Chinese drive to take back the territories they had lost by the Treaty of Peking. In the hands of the Minister of Finance, Count Sergei Witte, the policy assumed ambitious proportions. The construction of a Trans-Siberian Railroad, begun in 1891, but long envisaged, would provide the communication and transportation link binding Siberia to the center. It would stimulate the production of iron and steel in Russia, but also accelerate settlement of the region and promote a civilizing mission. Witte’s proposal to extend the line across Manchuria with a connection to Vladivostok (the Chinese Eastern Railroad) would facilitate Russian economic penetration of the northern tier of the Chinese borderlands. But Russian occupation of Manchuria during the Boxer Rebellion (1900) and a more aggressive policy of penetrating Korea, led by a clique of adventurers close to the new tsar Nicholas II, antagonized the Japanese with whom Witte had attempted to negotiate a division of Manchuria and Korea into spheres of influence. Russia’s defeat in the war with Japan (1904–1905) had serious effects on the domestic front, triggering the revolution of 1905, but only briefly checked Russia’s expansionist designs in Asia. A new factor, the rising power of Japan, challenged Russian policy in China over the next four decades. In the period from 1907 to 1917, however, Russian statesmen returned to Witte’s policy of joining up with Japan to carve up northeast Asia into spheres of influence, running from Xinjiang, where the Russians had a free hand, through Mongolia, Manchuria, and Korea. These arrangements were part of a general post-revolutionary Russian policy, as stated by foreign minister A. P. Izvolskii, “to guarantee Russia’s security along the entire, extensive line from its Far Eastern borders to its European frontiers by hammering out a whole set of agreements.”33 On the eve of World War One, Russian economic and political influence in the northern tier of Chinese borderlands reached a high-water mark not achieved again until the reemergence of the Soviet Union as a major East Asian power, in the first decade after World War Two.

Although Russians regarded Siberia as Asian, they differed over what that meant for the future of the region. Some emphasized its separateness. Others described it as in terms of interaction among peoples crossing the imaginary line of the Urals—Cossacks, merchants, hunters, peasants, political exiles, and convicts in one direction, nomadic peoples in the other direction.34 These visions changed over time. In the 18th century, Siberia was imagined as a realm of untapped natural resources and a source of great wealth. But in the 19th century, the flood of exiles inverted the image by portraying Siberia as a vast prison. By the end of the empire, the views of Russian officials oscillated between fears and aspirations: fears that separatism had acquired a political character, leading to the growth of Siberian nationalism, as opposed to aspirations of turning Siberia into a model of future development for the empire as a whole.35 What Siberia meant in the eyes of its indigenous people was hardly considered.

The Pontic Steppe

The subjugation of Kazan and Astrakhan opened the possibility of further penetration into the steppe, although the final stage of that process was completed only two centuries later. In contrast to the Siberian frontier, the Muscovites regarded the importance of the Pontic steppe, known as “the wild field,” as primarily strategic, although they were not averse to conducting trade with the nomads. The nomads were more numerous, better-organized and more proficient in military arts than the Siberian tribes. An even a more formidable foe, the Crimean Khanate, a vassal of the Ottoman Empire, together with its Nogay allies, annually raided deeply into the forest zone, burning the suburbs of Moscow in 1571. The last big Tatar-Nogay raid in 1633 reached within thirty kilometers of Moscow, taking tens of thousands of captives who were sold at Kaffa in the Crimea, the largest slave market in Europe in the 17th century.36 The security problem was magnified by the entanglement of Russian, Polish, and Ottoman interests in the region, each side forming temporary alliances with one another and the nomads for control over territories on their borders.37 The Russians responded by constructing forts and fortified lines, which they steadily advanced into the steppe to protect the growing population of settlers engaged in agriculture. The difficulty of subduing the Asian nomads may be illustrated by focusing on the successive outcomes of Russian relations with the Nogay, Kalmyks, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, and Crimean Tatars.38

In the 1620s, the Nogay were already under pressure on their eastern flank from the more militant Kalmyks, who were converts to Lamaist Buddhism. When Moscow rejected their appeal for protection, they vainly sought refuge in the Crimean Khanate. Distrusted by the Russian military, who sought to relocate them away from the unstable frontier with the Ottomans, they rose in revolt in 1783, after the annexation of Crimea. Brutally repressed, many fled to the Ottoman lands, only to return again. The Russian policy of sedentarization failed to settle them down. Exposed to the preaching of itinerant holy men, they set out again in their last great migration of 1860. Abandoning the Kuban, about 50,000 swept across the Crimea on their way to the Ottoman Empire, disrupting their brethren and contributing to the further dislocation of the Crimean Tatars.39 Only remnants remained in Russia, where they survive in small groups down to today.

Russia in AsiaClick to view larger

Figure 2. Bashkir Village Chief.

Photo by G. Fischer, Orenburg, 1892.

Erupting out of inner Asia in the early 17th century, the Kalmyks struck the Nogays and the Crimean Tatars with terrific force. The Russians saw the advantage of using them as allies. A formidable military power, the Kalmyks were courted by the Ottomans as well, and even received delegations from the Qing dynasty. But like other nomadic polities, they were vulnerable to internal factionalism and the encroachment on their pasturelands of settlers protected by the fixed defenses of the Russian forts and military lines. In 1771, under pressure of the government of Catherine II, the majority of the Kalmyk people, 150,000 strong, departed Russian territory on the Lower Volga, heading back East to Dzhungaria. During their flight they lost two thirds of their number and all their herds. The 5,000 who remained stubbornly resisted being brought under Russian law and administrative control. Shuffled from one bureaucratic agency to another, they were finally freed from all special legal and tax obligations in 1892.40

Russia in AsiaClick to view larger

Figure 3. Dual Portrait of Kalmyk Types.

Aziatskai Rossiia, vol. 2 “Liudi i Poriaki za Uralom,” (St. Petersburg, 1914).

The Crimean Tatars proved a tougher nut to crack. For several centuries the khanate had served as the “Northern Shield” of the Ottoman Empire. They guaranteed Ottoman monopoly over the trade of the Black Sea and defended the northern route of pilgrims from Trans-Caspia to the holy places of Ottoman Arabia. They exploited their strategic position to ally themselves with Poles, Russians, and Cossacks in the frequent wars of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Although their agricultural and commercial activities contributed to their wealth, they could not forgo the semi-nomadic custom of raiding Russian settlements. This precluded them from colonizing the fertile black earth lands to the north outside the peninsula. Their tribal and religious leaders opposed the attempts of reforming khans to lay the foundations for a modern state. As a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, they were the advanced guard in the many Ottoman wars with Russia. Consequently, the Russians regarded all agreements with them as temporary and their subjugation as a strategic necessity. Under Russian pressure, the great migrations of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland had already begun with the departure of most of the elites and military forces during the Russo-Turkish War of 1769–1774. By the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainardji in 1774, the Russians severed the connection linking the khanate as vassal to the Ottoman Empire, facilitating its annexation in 1783. In an effort to stem the surge of migration that followed, Catherine extended religious toleration and granted the right of the Tatar princes (murzy) not previously recognized to enroll in the genealogy books of the Russian nobility even if they did not convert to Christianity.41 But the flow continued sporadically for the following century in direct relationship to the outcome of four subsequent wars between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the 18th century, the number of emigrants may have been as high as between 150,000 and 170,000. Despite the fact that Crimean cavalry units fought loyally on the Russian side against Napoleon, suspicion mounted against them as politically unreliable. The major crisis in their relations with the Russians came during and after the Crimean War.

What had been a trickle of emigrants from the Crimea in 1856 suddenly swelled to massive outflow in 1859, leading the exodus of two thirds of the pre-war population. Their motives have been attributed to abusive Russian policies ranging from confiscation of land to forced relocation. As early as 1855, Alexander II responded, to the inquiries of local officials, that “it would be advantageous to rid the peninsula of this harmful population.” But religious exhortations emanating from the Ottoman Empire also played a role. As the exodus gathered momentum, an almost equal number of Christians from the Ottoman Empire—Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, and Montenegrins—replaced them in what rapidly became another episode in the on-going demographic transformation of both the Russian and Ottoman Empires.42

The Caucasus

The Russians were already probing the edges of the North Caucasus under Ivan IV, whose second wife was a Kabardian princess. Free Cossacks were settling along the Kuban and Terek Rivers, intermarrying with the local women, and welcoming tribesmen into their ranks. They were not under any external authority and raided indiscriminately in all directions.43 Up to the reign of Peter, the Russians stood aside from the main struggle between the Ottoman and Iranian Empires for control over the Caucasus. Before he launched his short-lived incursion into Iran along the east flank of the mountains, he had tamed the Cossacks. But he could not rescue the Christian rebels of Georgia who, under their king Vakhtang, had appealed for aid against the advancing Ottomans, addressing the Russian tsar as “the indistinguishable lamp at the grave of Christ and the crown of the four patriarchs and himself—the descendent of David and Solomon.”44 After the Russians had retreated from Iran, their leaders resisted further appeals from the embattled Christians for fear the Sultan would unleash the Crimean Tatars against their exposed Pontic frontier. Only after the Russians had defeated the Ottomans and annexed Crimea did they renew their advance under the inspired leadership of Catherine’s lover, Prince Potemkin. He combined the familiar Russian tactics of conquest against Asian opponents, the Islamic forces of Ottomans, and the mountaineers. He constructed military lines manned by loyal Cossacks and supported the settlement of colonists. He extracted oaths of loyalty from the local Kabardian chiefs. But even his efforts, including the construction of the Georgian military highway, could not secure the region against the pressure of the Ottomans from the west and the Iranians, enjoying a revival under the first ruler of the new Qajar dynasty, the vigorous Aga Muhammed Shah.

Finally, in 1801, the Russians under Alexander I took Georgia under their protection and abolished the ruling dynasty. But, to protect the new borderland, Alexander took the fateful decision to anchor the eastern flank in Daghestan. It was the beginning of a long period of violent resistance to Russian domination in the frontier zone, punctuated by local risings of the Ossetians and Georgians, led by their princes operating from an Iranian exile, and the interventions of both the Ottoman and Iranian powers, culminating in two treaties, Bucharest (1812) and Gulistan (1813), which secured Russia’s position on both sides of the Caucasian isthmus. Determined to repel “the Russian intrusion into ‘the Guarded Domains,’” the Iranians made one last effort to recover their lost territories in a war that ended in their expulsion from the Caucasus by the terms of the Treaty of Turkmanchai in 1828.45 But the troubles of the Russians in the Caucasus were not over.

In the wake of the war, as many as 35,000 Sunni Muslims left their homes for the Ottoman Empire in another of those flights that followed a Russian victory on the Asian battlefield. Together with the arrival of 57,000 Armenians from Iran and the Ottoman Empire, their exodus reduced the Muslim population to a minority in the south Caucasus. The Russian commander, General N. I. Paskevich, settled the Armenians in the annexed khanates of Erevan and Nakhichevan and, more fatefully, in the district of Karabakh, which he left as an enclave cut off from the majority Armenian areas. An example of Russia’s borderland policy of keeping ethnic groups divided into separate administrative units, the settlement subsequently created bitter feelings between the Christian Armenians and Muslim (Azerbaizhani) population. A time bomb, it periodically exploded into ethnic warfare, in 1905, 1918–1920 and 1988.46

The Russian conquest of the North Caucasus proved more challenging. Russian policies to strengthen the Caucasian Military Line erred in two directions. They alternated between promoting and discouraging the settlement of peasants and dissident religious groups, and they adopted contradictory approaches to toleration and repression of the customs and religious beliefs of the mountain people.47 The resistance of the mountaineers took the form of a militant Muslim movement, called Muridism by the Russians, inspired by a Sufi sect. They fought a thirty-year holy war (ghazavat), led in its latter stages by Sheikh Shamil, a legendary figure, respected and honored even by the Russians, who took him prisoner and then celebrated his exploits by exhibiting him throughout the country.48 The Russians then launched a savage campaign against the Circassians (Adyge-Cherkess) on the northwest flank of the Caucasus, driving over a million out of their homelands. After severe losses, they settled in the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Difficult to assimilate, they remained a disruptive force, participating in the Bulgarian massacres of 1876, leading to the Russo-Turkish War.49

Rebellions continued to plague the Russian occupation of Chechnia (where there had already been a Great Revolt in 1825–1826), Ingushetia, and Daghestan, the latter preceded by the activity of Ottoman agents, the perennial fear of Russian administrators. Within a few years after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, about 110,000 Muslim inhabitants emigrated to the Ottoman Empire from the provinces of Kars and Ardahan, which had been ceded to Russia, followed by another 30,000 from Batumi and Armenia. About half returned. But their departure gave another impetus to the large-scale emigrations of the Abkhazians, which may have totaled 180,000 over the first eight decades of the 19th century. Perceptive Russians like the Georgian Prince G. D. Orbelani questioned the responsibility of the Russians. “The Crimea became empty, more than 200,000 Circassians left the Kuban. Abkhazia is left without population. Can all this be explained by fanaticism?”50 The hemorrhaging of the Asian population continued into the early 20th century when up to 24,000 Circassians and other peoples of the North Caucasus sought permission to leave the Russian for the Ottoman Empire.51 Throughout the long and tangled history of the migrations, the Russian government failed to develop any consistent policy. Desires to cleanse the frontiers for security reasons alternated with regrets over the economic costs of losing productive populations. The government also evinced similar contradictions in dealing with the pilgrimages of its Muslim population to the Holy sites in Arabia (hajj), seeking unsuccessfully to restrict or control the numbers and selection of routes.52

The process of conversion in the Caucasus was complicated by two factors: the first was internal, the large number of ethno-linguistic groups engaging in different social cultural practices; the second was external, the countervailing influence of Islam propagated by Russia’s imperial Asian rivals, the Ottoman Empire and Iran. As a result, Russian policies varied greatly, ranging from attempts to revive Christianity where there was evidence of its previous existence in the central Caucasus among Kabardinians, Ossetians, and Ingush, to merely containing Islam in the mountains and in the eastern Caucasus among the Azerbaizhani. Moreover, successive viceroys of the Caucasus, powerful figures who were often at odds with the central authorities or even the Orthodox Church introduced their own strategies. Field Marshall Prince A. I Bariatinskii (viceroy from 1856–1862) founded a Society for the Resurrection of Orthodox Christianity in the Caucasus. Like other reformers in the empire, he stressed the importance in missionary work of mastering local languages, while exercising extreme caution in working among the mountaineers, where a militant form of Islam was deeply entrenched, or along the Ottoman and Iranian borders. His successor, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolaevich (1863–1881), was more cautious, seeking to strengthen Orthodoxy where it was already strong represented. Finally, Prince Dondukov-Korsakov (1882–1900), descendent of a Kalmyk prince, retreated even further from the proselytizing aims of Bariatinskii. None of the three policies scored many successes among the Muslims, and by the end of the century, the Church was forced to admit that Christian villages in the highlands were going over to the militant stream of Islam (Muridism). Parallel attempts to russify the Muslim clergy by obliging them to use Russian in accepting bureaucratic functions backfired, sparking their demands for great autonomy in the declining years of the empire.53 But in the secular realm, the intensification of russifying projects yielded broader if often ambiguous results.

In the Caucasus, where conversion had scored few successes, the major shift in state cultural policies after 1881 took the form of russifying education by weakening the local parochial school system and imposing Russian as the only language of the bureaucracy. Not only Muslims, but also Armenians and Georgians suffered the consequences. The Over Procurator of the Holy Synod, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, acknowledged that Christianity was an insufficient guarantee of loyalty to the throne. After a visit to the Caucasus in 1886, he wrote Tsar Alexander III that “the Armenians and Georgians are seeking to free themselves from Russian culture and nourish the mad dream of reestablishing their national independence.”54

The revolution of 1905, in the South Caucasus, testified to the ultimate failure of Russian imperial rule in the region exemplified by the breakdown in public order, ethnic violence and the rise of nationalist parties among the Georgians, Armenians, and Tatars. The virus of revolution also spread across the porous frontier with Iran. Although Russia already served as a filter of European ideas to local elites, the slow drip had become a stream by the revolution of 1905. The problem for the authorities was that Russian translations of European works also carried subversive ideas. These penetrated deeper into Asia, into the Ottoman and especially the Iranian Empires, where seasonal migrant workers in the Baku oil fields were first exposed to socialist ideas by Russian speaking Azeri intellectuals. Elements of this cross-border migration played a major role in the Iranian revolution of 1907 and subsequently in the founding of the Iranian Communist Party.55

At the same time, the inability of the Iranian government to control the large nomadic movements across the frontier gave the Russians the opportunity to interfere in the provincial government of Azerbaizhan. They followed this up by establishing a Russo-Asiatic Bank that made substantial loans to the Iranian government, rivaling British influence in the country. This was the prelude to the partition of Iran, in 1907, into spheres of influence between Russia and Great Britain.


Although the Great Northern War against Sweden (1700–1721) consumed much of Peter the Great’s energy and attention, he was already giving thought to the Asian dimension of his vast imperial project. Once victory in Europe seemed assured, he dispatched several expeditions simultaneously to Trans-Caspia and the Caucasus. The most successful was led in 1718, by Artemii Volynskii, the governor of Astrakhan, who was instructed to reconnoiter the Persian Empire and gain privileges for Russian merchants, presumably as a first step toward cutting into the profitable trade in silk and spices, which up to that point had been a monopoly of the west European sea powers. Peter’s interest had been foreshadowed by Ivan IV’s concession to the English Muscovy Company. The aim had been to divert the silk route from the oceanic route to the internal all-water route, from the White Sea along the Volga to the Caspian, which became politically feasible only after Ivan’s conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan. Peter had already set in motion a larger scale project of building canals and clearing waterways connecting the Baltic Sea to the Volga. Volynskii’s reports stressed the weakness of the Qajar dynasty and the rich profits to be made from the Iranian silk trade.

Once the war with Sweden had ended, Peter personally led an expedition to occupy key coastal regions along the western and northern shores of the Caspian. He had been convinced to act by the news that the power of the Qajar dynasty in Iran was crumbling under assaults by Afghans to the East and Ottomans to the south. The military campaign was successful, but Peter resisted the appeal of the Armenian patriarch to liberate his flock from Iranian rule and take them under Russian protection, fearing to incite a religious war with the Ottomans advancing from the west. In an oft-repeated pattern in dealing with Asian powers over a contested frontier, he preferred to reach an accommodation with the Ottomans. The Treaty of Constantinople, in 1724, left them with control over the Christian Georgian and Armenian population of the Caucasus in return for Russian control of the Iranian coastal provinces. But the Russians had over-stretched themselves. Within a few years, their position was completely undermined by attacks from Caucasian mountaineers on their supply lines and the devastating effect of disease in the malaria-infested lowland, which carried off 100,000 men.56

Although the Russians had long been involved in trade with Central Asia, Peter’s interest in the khanates of Bukhara and Khiva was first sparked by news of shifts in steppe politics and internal strife, which weakened both states. At the same time, he received word that the Khivans had diverted the Amu Daria River, from the Caspian to the Aral Sea, from fear of Russian expansion. The prospect of turning it back into its original bed offered the Russians a possibility of establishing an all water route between Caspian and India about which ancient authors had written. Word also reached him of rich gold deposits near the modern town of Yarkand in East Turkestan. He dispatched three expeditions under the command of Alexander Bekovich-Cherkasskii, a descendent of a Caucasus mountaineer bearing the Muslim name of Devlet-Girei. Reaching Khiva on his third expedition, he was betrayed and killed. It would take another century for the Russians to conquer the khanates. Peter’s expedition to explore the gold fields was equally unsuccessful, repulsed by the Kalmyks.57 Peter then ordered the strengthening of the Irtysh Military Line, which had long served as the frontier with the Kalmyks between Siberia and Trans-Caspia. These sorties deepened the Russian involvement in steppe politics where, in the 1730s, three great Kazakh hordes, dislodged from their pastoral ground in the east by the Western Mongols, added to the complex mix of competing nomadic tribes on the southern frontiers of Siberia. Building on Peter’s initiatives, the government dispatched another Muslim Tatar, Alexei (Muhammed) Tevkelev, to negotiate with the Kazakhs. His memo, subsequently expanded by Russian proconsuls in the region, laid the foundations of Russian policy in the steppe frontier. Emphasizing the economic value of the region and the need to combine military pressure and material incentives, along with manipulating the three major tribal confederation of Kalmyks, Kazakhs and Bashkirs, Russian officials extended their protection to the Kazakhs. But as in other relations between the Russians and the nomads, both sides misunderstood the promises and intentions of the other. Friction and misunderstanding led to serious complications for the Russians in the steppe during the Pugachev rebellion on the Volga in the 1770s, which at one time threatened the stability of the empire. In addition to the turmoil of internal tribal politics, the Russians had to contend with the agitation of Muslim mullahs, incited on occasion by the clerics of the khanates. It was only in the second quarter of the 19th century that the Kazakh hordes were finally brought under Russian control.58 This brought Russia into a confrontation with the independent khanates of Khiva and Kokand, which claimed jurisdiction over the Kazakhs and had provided them with sanctuary in their flight across the porous steppe frontier, and Bukhara.

Russia in AsiaClick to view larger

Figure 4. Kazakh Judges of the Semirechenskaia Oblast (West Kazakhstan) in Traditional Fur Caps with Ear Flaps, 1893.

Courtesy of Gosudarstvennoi arkhiv Rossiskoi federatsii (GARF).

As early as the 1840s and 1850s, Russian intellectuals had envisioned the region as a training ground for Russia’s role as an intermediary civilizing force between Europe and Asia.59 Here was a variation on the Siberian theme of ideologically constructed Eurasian space. The difference was in the means to fulfill the vision. A division among Russian policy makers, between a forward and a conservative party, gave military commanders on the spot considerable leeway. In a series of unauthorized campaigns, they reduced the khanates of Kokand and Bukhara to the status of Russian dependencies by 1868. Shortly thereafter, General K. P. von Kaufman, the future first governor general of Turkestan, seized the initiative again and launched an attack against Khiva. His avowed aim was to end the cross border raiding and khan’s support for rebellious Kazakhs. The treaty of 1873 established a Russian protectorate over Khiva, while a renewal of treaty relations with Bukhara retained the fiction of a sovereign state. Down to the end of the empire, the Russian protectorate helped stimulate the cotton industry but brought few changes in the social and cultural life of Bukhara and Khiva. Despite the construction of a Central Asian railroad, there were few Russian settlers aside from the military. The Russian policy of non-intervention in internal affairs was strained at times, but broke down only at the very end of the tsarist empire in response to a revolt in 1916.60 Despite its high-flown civilizing rhetoric, Russia did little to bring about a modern transformation of the khanates, which remained backward colonies.

Conversion was never an option for the Russian proconsuls administering the vast territory of Turkestan. Islam had long been deeply entrenched in the societies of the khanates. Von Kaufman set the tone by proposing to “ignore” Islam rather than proselytize or persecute it. He erroneously assumed it would wither away when faced with a superior Russian civilization. No doubt his tactics were inspired in part by his fifteen-year experience in the Caucasus. To isolate “the fanatics,” he sought to win over “the best people” among the Muslims to collaborate with his administration, without recruiting them into the bureaucracy. He preferred to devote his attention to cultural projects like liberating Muslim women from their most onerous social bonds and sponsoring integrated schools to promote the spread of Russian language.61 Mild russifying policies did not, however, disarm the mullahs who are generally regarded as the major agitators in sparking rebellions in 1885 and 1898.

Paradoxically, the optimistic view sustained a greater shock, as reforms introduced by the October Manifesto of 1905 began to take hold. Muslims entered areas of public life previously closed to them, becoming politically active, electing delegates to the First and Second Dumas, establishing a vigorous press and expanding business activities. By their very success, these manifestations of the civilizing mission threatened, in the eyes of some Russians, to blur the lines between colonized and colonizer, between European Russians and Asiatic Tatars. Moreover, Russian officials were beginning to fear that it was precisely the progressive reform movements in Islam that were also feeding aspirations to cultural autonomy and the spread of Pan-Islamism in the region: “The danger is that the devotion of the native population of Turkestan to another power will cause a national religious crisis,” wrote Senator K. K. Palen in 1910, reporting on the impact of the revolution of 1905 in the region.62 There were concerns, too, that incoming Russian workers on the railroad, mainly poor and ignorant peasants, were hardly providing a civilizing model. The outbreak of war ignited racial, religious, and gender tensions in the 1916 riot of lower class Russian women against Tatar merchants and in the revolt of the Muslim masses against the draft. Imperial rule in the region was crumbling, even before 1917 brought it crashing down.63

Back to Boundaries and Frontiers

For four centuries, Russian elites had represented themselves as bearers of a higher civilization, expanding the frontiers of Europe in their encounters with Asia and Asians within the empire and on its margins. By 1914, the external boundaries had been set with the Ottoman Empire (1878), Iran (1881), China (1881), and Afghanistan (1887). But these lines betrayed a more complex reality. They divided ethnic and religious groups, leaving Armenians, Kurds, Azerbaizhani, Tadzhiks, Kazakhs, and Mongols on both sides of international borders—a formula for instability. Moreover, Russia’s economic and political influence penetrated deeply into the provinces of northern Iran and the northern borderlands of China (Xinjiang, Mongolia, Manchuria). The internal boundaries with Asians had also undergone a demographic and cultural transformation. The greatest advance of European peoples and practices had come in the Pontic steppe, where the nomadic population had been sharply reduced by emigration and sedentarization and replaced by colonists from the central Russian provinces, Ukrainians, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Germans. Elsewhere, in the Pre-Ural and Siberia, the Caucasus and Trans-Caspia, the tactics of assimilation through conversion and russification yielded only indifferent results. When the imperial project collapsed, the design and the structure remained unfinished; its legacy as a representative of Europe’s power and culture in Asia ambiguous; the contradictions of its self-referential discourse unresolved.


Recent trends in the historiography of Russia in Asia can best be understood within the general parameters of the new imperial history as well as the specific literature on the Russian Empire. In both contexts, significant changes have taken place in the study of concepts, topics, and comparisons. Questions have been raised about the generic nature of empire and whether, for example, there are greater similarities or differences between continental and oceanic empires.64 Comparisons invariably stimulate discussion over the usefulness of the term “Orientalism” and whether Russia shared similar perceptions of the “East” with other European empires.65 The idea of a homogenous “East” has been rejected, as indeed has a similar concept of “the West.” At the same time, new insights have been provided to explore the transnational connections and networks that linked the peoples of the Russian Empire with other peoples beyond the borders of the same ethno-linguistic or religious values.66 An important shift has also taken place in the relationship between Russians and Asians within the tsarist empire. A Russia-centered narrative has yielded to a more complex understanding of the multiple encounters between the dominant and subaltern ethnicities and religions of the empire, although initially there was a tendency to engage in a bout of trendiness.67 Specific ethnic and religious groups have increasingly become the object of scholarly study drawing upon local archives.68 Micro-history has also made its appearance in the study of empire.69 These works have contributed to the general literature on human diversity. In general the shift from center to periphery has had a reciprocal effect on the study of the center, particularly in the growth of Russian nationalism in the imperial context. The sharp dichotomy between empire and nation has undergone a significant challenge.70

Primary Sources

The best guide to sources is the online School of Russian and Asian Studies, which lists all the major archival collections in the United States and Russia, in addition to precise and accurate descriptions of their content, opening hours, and for the Russian archives, requirements for permission. The wide range of offerings will enable the researcher to locate exactly what he/she is looking for.

ASEAN—Russia Summit, Sochi, May 19-20, 2016.

Hathi Trust Digital Library. HathiTrust Research Center.

Wilson Digital Archive, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Russia and Eurasia: Primary Sources, Stanford Libraries.

Russian Archives and Primary Documents, The School of Russian and Asian Studies.

Empire in Asia, National University of Singapore.

H-Asia, Asian History & Studies, H-Net Humanities and Social Sciences Online.

Further Reading:

Becker, Seymour. Russia’s Protectorates in Central Asia: Bukhara and Kiva, 1865–1924. London: Routledge Curzon, 2004.Find this resource:

Breyfogle, Nicholas B., Abby Schrader, and Willard Sunderland (eds.). Peopling the Russian Periphery: Borderland Colonization in Eurasian History. New York: Routledge, 2007.Find this resource:

Brower, Daniel R., and Edward J. Lazzerini (eds.). Russia’s Orient. Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700–1917. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Crews, Robert D. For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Dowler, Wayne. Classroom and Empire. The Politics of Schooling Russia’s Eastern Nationalities, 1860–1917. Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Geraci, Robert P., and Michael Khodarkovsky. Of Religion and Empire. Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Jersild, Austin. Orientalism and Empire. The North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845–1917. Montreal, Quebec: McGill and Queens University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Kappeler, Andreas. The Russian Empire: A Multi-Ethnic History. London, Routledge, 2014.Find this resource:

Khodarkovsky, Michael. Russia’s Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500–1800. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Rieber, Alfred J., The Struggle for the Eurasian Borderlands: From the Rise of Early Modern Empires to the End of the First World War. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, David. Russian Orientalism: Asia in the Russian Mind from Peter the Great to the Emigration. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2010.Find this resource:

Taki, Victor. Tsar and Sultan: Russian Encounters with the Ottoman Empire. London: I. B. Tauris, 2014.Find this resource:

Vucinich, Wayne S. (ed.). Russia and Asia: Essays on the Influence of Russia on the Asian Peoples. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1972.Find this resource:


(1.) Mark Bassin, “Russia between Europe and Asia: The Ideological Construction of Geographical Space,” Slavic Review 50, no. 1 (1991), 6–7.

(2.) Denys Hay, Europe: The Emergence of an Idea, revised edition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1968), 120–121, 124–125. Geographers have been abandoning the idea that physical boundaries matter; “the continental formula has clearly outlived its usefulness.” Martin W. Lewi and Karen E. Wigen, The Myth of Continents. A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 46.

(3.) There are several versions of the story. Cf. Larry Wolff, “‘Kennst du das Land?’ The Uncertainty of Galicia in the Age of Metternich and Fredro,” Slavic Review 67, no. 2 (2008), 294; and Langsdorff to Sainte-Aulaire, Vienna, May 6, 1836. Archives du ministère des affaires étrangères, CP. Autriche, 423, cited in Mirolslav Šedivý, Metternich, the Great Powers and the Eastern Question (Pilsen, Czech Republic: University of West Bohemia, 2013), 4.

(4.) N. A. Tsvytkov, “Prostranstvo i granitsy Aziatskoi Rossii,” Aziatskoi Rossiia, vol. 1, 2 vols. (St. Petersburg: Izd. Pereselencheskago upravlenii glavnago upravleniia zemleustroistva i zemledeliia, 1914), 39–44; and N. V. Turchaninov, “Naselenie Aziatskoi Rossiia. Statisticheskii ocherk” (St. Petersburg: Izd. Pereselencheskago upravlenii glavnago upravleniia zemleustroistva i zemledeliia, 1914), 64–92.

(5.) M.A. D’iakonov, Vlast’ moskovskikh gosudarei: Ocherk iz istorii politicheskikh idei drevnei Rusi do kontsa XVI veka (St. Petersburg: Skorokhodov, 1889), 87–88; Marc Szeftel, “The Title of the Muscovite Monarch up to the End of the Seventeenth Century,” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 13 (1979), 71–72.

(6.) Michael Cherniavsky, “Khan or Basilieus: An Aspect of Medieval Russian Political Theory,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 20, no. 4 (October–December 1959), 459–496; Michael Khodarkovsky, Russia’s Steppe Frontier. The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500–1800 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 34–45.

(7.) Richard Wortman, Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 42–43.

(8.) John W. Slocum, “Who, and When, Were the Inorodtsy? The Evolution of the Category of ‘Aliens,’ in Imperial Russia,” The Russian Review, 57 (April 1998), 173–190.

(9.) Austin Jersild, Orientalism and Empire: The North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845–1917 (Montreal, Quebec: McGill and Queens University Press, 2002), 59–89; and Vera Tolz, Russia’s Own Orient: The Politics of Identity and Oriental Studies in the Late Imperial and Early Soviet Periods (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 7–9, 51–57, 125–131.

(10.) For the original school see Nicholas Riasanovsky, “The Emergence of Eurasianism,” California Slavic Studies 4 (1967), 39–72. For the post-Soviet revival Ilya Vinkovetsky, “Classical Eurasianism and Its Legacy,” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 34 (2000), 125–140; and Mark Bassin and Gonzalo Pozo (eds.), The Politics of Eurasianism: Identity, Popular Culture and Russian Foreign Policy (London: Rowan and Littlefield International, 2017).

(11.) Willard Sunderland, “What Is Asia to Us?” Scholarship on the Tsarist “East” since the 1990s,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 12, no. 4 (fall, 2011), 818–833. See also the discussion in “Married Hybridity:Language of Diversity,” eds. Ilya Gerasimov, Sergey Glebov and Marina Mogilner, Ab Imperio, no. 1 (2016), 27–177.

(12.) Adeeb Khalid, “Russian History and the Debate over Orientalism,” Kritika 1, no. 4 (fall 2000), 691–700; and Jeff Sahadeo, Russian Colonial Society in Tashkent, 1865–1923 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 5–6, 12–13, and passim.

(13.) Alexandre Bennigsen and Chantal Quelquejay, Les movements nationaux chez les musulmans de Russie (Paris, the Hague: Mouton, 1960), 28–32.

(14.) Agnès Nilüfer Kefeli, Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literacy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 26–27, 58–59, 178–181, 204–209.

(15.) Robert Geraci, “Russian Orientalism at an Impasse: Tsarist Education Policy and the 1910 Conference on Islam,” in Russia’s Orient. Imperial Borderlands and Peoples, 1700–1917, ed. Daniel R. Brower and Edward J. Lazzerini (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 140.

(16.) Adeeb Khalid, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

(17.) Paul Werth, “Big Candles and ‘Internal Conversion:’ The Mari Animist Reformation and Its Russian Appropriations,” in Geraci and Khodarkovsky, Of Religion and Empire: Missions, Conversion, and Tolerance in Tsarist Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 160–172.

(18.) Andreas Kappeler, “The Ambiguities of Russification,” Kritika 5, no. 2 (Spring 2004), 291–298; and Alexei Miller, “Russification or Russifications?” in Miller, The Romanov Empire and Nationalism (Budapest: CEU Press, 2008), 45–66.

(19.) For a more extended treatment see Alfred J. Rieber, The Struggle for the Eurasian Borderlands: From the Rise of Early Modern Empires to the End of the First World War (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014), especially 5–78.

(20.) Pierre Bourdieu, “Elements for a Critical reflection on the Idea of Region,” in Language and Symbolic Power, ed. Pierre Bourdieu (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 223.

(21.) V. M. Kazbuzan and S. M. Troitskii, “Dvizhenie naseleniia Sibiri v XVIII v.” in Sibir XVIIXVIII vv. Materialy po istorii Sibiri perioda feodalizma (Novosibirsk: Otdel sibirskogo otdeleniia ANSSSR, 1962), 146, 150, and Tables 3 and 4.

(22.) Valerie Kivelson, “Claiming Siberia. Colonial Possessions and Property Holding in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries,” in Peopling the Russian Periphery, ed. Nicholas B. Breyfogle, Abby Schrader, and Willard Sunderland (New York: Routledge, 2007), 21–38.

(23.) Marc Raeff, Michael Speransky. Statesman of Imperial Russia (2d rev. ed.) (Westport, CT: Hyperion Press, 1990), 274–278.

(24.) François Xavier Coquin, La Sibérie. Peuplement et immigration paysanne au XIXe siècle (Paris: Institut d’études slaves, 1969), 151–153, 156, 462 ff.

(25.) Michael Khodarkovsky, “The Conversion of Non-Christians in Early Modern Russia,” in Of Religion and Empire, ed. Robert P. Geraci and Michael Khodarkovsky (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 120–123, 132–139.

(26.) “Bashkiry,” in N. V. “Nagai” Entsiklopedicheskii slovar’, vol. 5 (St. Petersburg: F.A. Brokgaus and I.A. Efron, 1891), 232–233.

(27.) Wayne Dowler, Classroom and Empire: The Politics of Schooling Russia’s Eastern Nationalities, 1860–1917 (Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001), 45–46 and passim. “To make our arguments accessible to the Tatars,” Il’minskii wrote, “we cannot clothe them in the garb of our own Christian concepts and history. On the contrary, we must adopt a Muslim perspective, accepting its religious worldview and conceptions of the past.” Cited in David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Russian Orientalism. Asia in the Russian Mind from Peter the Great to the Emigration (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 131.

(28.) Ilia Vinkovetsky, Russian America. An Overseas Colony of a Continental Empire, 1804–1867 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 154–180.

(29.) Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West. The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2005), 164–173.

(30.) G. V. Melikov and V. N. Ponomarev, “Rossiia i Kitai na Da’lnem Vostoke. Popytki ustanovit’ kontakty s Iaponei,” in Istoriia vneshnei politiki Rossii. Pervaia Polovina XIX veka, ed. O.V. Orlik et al, (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniia, 1999), 252–261.

(31.) Hodong Kim, Holy War in China: The Muslim Rebellion and the State in Chinese Central Asia, 1864–1877 (Stanford University Press, 2004), 141–157.

(32.) C. Y. Hsü, “The Great Policy Debate in China, 1874: Maritime Defense versus Frontier Defense,” Harvard Journal of Asian Studies 215, (1964–1965), 22–28.

(33.) A. V. Ignat’ev, Vneshniaia politika Rossiia v 1905–1907 gg. (Moscow: Nauka, 1986), 147–157, 172–180; quotation on p. 112.

(34.) Mark Bassin, “Inventing Siberia: Visions of the Russian East in the Early Nineteenth Century,” American Historical Review 96, no. 3 (1991), 766–777; Yuri Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994).

(35.) A. V. Remnev, Samoderzhavie i Sibir’: Administrativnaia politika v pervoi polovine XIX v. (Omsk, Russia: Izd. Omskogo Universiteta, 1995); and Alberto Masoero, “Territorial Colonization in Late Imperial Russia: Stages in the Development of a Concept,” Kritika. Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 14, no. 1 (Winter, 2013), 59–92.

(36.) A. A. Novosel’skii, Bor’ba moskovskogo gosudarstva s tatarami v pervoi polovine xii veka (Moscow: Akademiia nauk, 1948), 214–218, 426.

(37.) A. B. Kuznetsov, “Rossiia i politika Kryma v vostochnoi Evrope v pervoi treti XVI veka,” in Rossiia, Pol’sha i prichernomor’e v XVIXVII vv, ed. B. A. Rybakov (Moscow: Nauka, 1979), 62–70.

(38.) For the following, see Michael Khodarkovsky, Russia’s Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500–1800 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 126–146; and Willard Sunderland, Taming the Wild Field: Colonization and Empire on the Russian Steppe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), 55–96.

(39.) Brian Glyn Williams, “Hijra and Forced Migration from Nineteenth Century Russia to the Ottoman Empire,” Cahiers du Monde russe 41, no. 1 (January–March, 2000), 94–98; and Brokgauz and Efron, Entsiklopedicheskii slovar,’ vol. 39, 421–422.

(40.) Michael Khodarkovsky, Where Two Worlds Met: The Russian State and The Kalmyk Nomads, 1600–1771 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 133–146.

(41.) L. N. Petrov (comp.) Istoriia rodov russkogo dvorianstva (St. Petersburg: German Goppe, 1886), 210–222, provides family trees for the descendants of the Crimean and Siberian khans as well as biographies of converted Muslims who were entered into the official genealogy of the Russian nobility including such well-known families as the Princes Iusopov, Urusov, Kantemir and Cherkassky. A. Romanovich–Slavatinskii, Dvorianstvo v Rossii ot nachala XVIII do otmeny krepostnago prava. (St. Petersburg: Ministry of Interior, 1870), 111.

(42.) Mara Kozelsky, “The Crimean War and the Tatar Exodus,” in Russian Ottoman Borderlands, ed. Lucien J. Frary and Mara Kozelsky, The Eastern Question Reconsidered (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), 165–192, quotation on p. 176.

(43.) Thomas M. Barrett, At the Edge of Empire. The Terek Cossacks and the North Caucasus Frontier, 1700–1860 (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1999), 19–20.

(44.) S. M. Solov’ev, Istoriia Rossii s drevneishikh vremen, vol. 18 (Moscow: Golos Kolokol, 1998), 444.

(45.) The phrase, which came from one of the great works of Iranian epic poetry, became almost “a slogan for the defense of the homeland.” Abbas Amanat, “‘Russian Intrusion into the Guarded Domain’: Reflections of a Qajar Statesman on European Expansion,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 113, no. 1 (January–March 1995), 39–41.

(46.) Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaizhan:. A Borderland in Transition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 9, 40, 193–194.

(47.) Nicholas B. Breyfogle, Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia’s Empire in the South Caucasus (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005).

(48.) Thomas M. Barrett, “The Remaking of the Lion of Daghestan: Shamil in Captivity,” in Russian Review 53, no. 3 (July 1994), 353–367.

(49.) Kemal Karpat, Ottoman Population, 1830–1914: Demographic and Social Characteristics (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 65–70; and Mark Pinson, “Ottoman Colonization of the Circassians in Rumelia after the Crimean War,” Études balkaniques 3 (1972), 71–85.

(50.) Candan Badem, ‘“Forty Years of Black Days’? The Russian Administration of Kars, Ardahan, and Batum, 1878–1918,” in Russian-Ottoman Borderlands, ed. Lucien J. Frary and Mara Kozelsky (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), 229; and B. G. Hewitt, “Abkhazia. A Problem of Identity and Ownership,” in Transcaucasian Boundaries, ed. Richard N. Schofield, John F. R Wright, and Suzanne Goldenberg (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 200.

(51.) Tragicheskie posledstviia kavkazskoi voiny dlia Adygov. Vtoraia polovina XIX-nachalo xx veka. Sbornik dokumentov i materialiov (Nal’chik: Izdat. Tsenr ‘El-Fa’, 2000), 272–288, 397, document nos. 153–163, 203 239.

(52.) Eileen Kane, Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015).

(53.) Firouzeh Mostashari, “Colonial Dilemmas: Russian Policies in the Muslim Caucasus,” in Of Religion and Empire, ed. Robert P. Geraci and Michael Khodarkovsky, 229–249.

(54.) Konstantin Pobedonostsev i ego korrespondenty. Pis’ma i zapiski, vol. 2 (Petrograd: Gosizdatel’stvo, 1923–1926), 113–117.

(55.) Audrey Alstadt, “Muslim Workers and the Labor Movement in Pre-War Baku,” in Turkic Culture: Continuity and Change, ed. S. M. Akural (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 83–91; and Cosroe Chaqueri, The Soviet Socialist Republic of Iran, 1920–1921: Birth of the Trauma (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995), which estimates that from 20 to 50 percent of males in northern Iran between the ages of twenty and forty ended up working for some period of time across the border, mainly in the south Caucasus, 24–25.

(56.) Murial Atkin, “Russian Expansion in the Caucasus to 1813,” in Russian Colonial Expansion to 1917, ed. Michael Rywkin (London: Mansell, 1988), 151.

(57.) V. V. Bartol’d, Istoriia izucheniia Vostoka v Evrope i v Rossii (St. Petersburg, 1911), 178–182. Much of this information came from Swedes serving in the Russian forces who were taken prisoners of war.

(58.) Khodarkovsky, Russia’s Steppe Frontier, 146–183.

(59.) Seymour Becker, “Russia between East and West: The Intelligentsia, Russian National Identity, and the Asian Borderlands,” Central Asian Survey 10, no. 4 (1991), 47–64.

(60.) Seymour Becker, Russia’s Protectorates in Central Asia: Bukhara and Kiva, 1865–1924 (London: Routledge Curzon, 2004) is more sanguine.

(61.) Daniel Brower, Turkestan and the Fate of the Russian Empire (London: Routledge-Curzon, 2003), 31–43.

(62.) Alexander Morrison, Russian Rule in Samarkand, 1868–1910: A Comparison with British India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 53–55, 75–76, 87, 119, quotation on p. 75.

(63.) Jeff Sahadeo, Russian Colonial Society in Tashkent, 1865–1923 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007).

(64.) Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

(65.) See the debate between Adeeb Khalid, Nathaniel Knight, and Maria Todorova, “Ex Tempore: Orientalism and Russia,” Kritika, Explorations in Eurasian History 1, no. 4 (2000), 691–728.

(66.) For example, Uyama Tomohiko (ed.) Asiatic Russia: Imperial Power in Regional and International Contexts (London: Routledge, 2011); and Eileen Kane, Russian Hajj: Empire and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015).

(67.) For criticisms see Jane Burbank, Mark von Hagen, and Anatoly Remnev (eds.), Russian Empire: People, Space, Power, 1700–1930 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007).

(68.) See for example, Robert Geraci, Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001); and Paul Werth, At the Margins of Orthodoxy: Mission, Governance, and Confessional Politics in Russia’s Volga-Kama Region, 1827–1905 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002).

(69.) Stephen M. Norris and Willard Sunderland (eds.), Russia’s People of Empire: Life Stories from Eurasia, 1500 to the Present (Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 2012).

(70.) Stepan Berger and Alexei Miller (eds.) Nationalizing Empires (Budapest: The Central European University Press, 2016).